Few things in Washington are truly bipartisan, and when it comes to Social Security , the two major parties have very different positions. But there's one thing that the White House consistently does regardless of which party its resident belongs to: failing to require the trustees they appoint to oversee the Social Security Trust Fund issue their annual Trustees Report before the deadline the law requires.
The 2021 version of the trustees report is now more than three months late. President Joe Biden's administration is getting off to the same start that former presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama did, and retirees can only hope things will get better in future years.
What the law requires
The Social Security Act requires the trustees of the Social Security Trust Fund to report on what's happened with the operation of the trust fund over the past year. The law also requires that the report look at expected operations and financial status for at least the next five fiscal years. More broadly, the report must include a longer-term actuarial analysis that includes formal opinions about the balance of the trust fund, as well as a complete explanation of what methods and calculations the Social Security Administration's chief actuary uses to make those determinations.
Perhaps most importantly, the Social Security Act requires trustees make their report by April 1. After that, it's late.
A deadline without teeth
The problem is that there's no statutory penalty against the trustees if they're late with their report. As a result, the trustees report hasn't been submitted on time in any year during the past three presidential administrations:
- Reports during President Obama's term got submitted on May 12, Aug. 9, May 13, April 25, May 31, July 28, July 22, and June 22.
- The track record during President Trump's administration was equally consistent, with late-filed reports on July 13, June 5, and April 22 twice in a row.
The last trustees report to be filed on time was in 2008. The report that year came out on March 25, beating the deadline by roughly a full week.
A good excuse?
Most retirees are used to the federal government not getting things done on time, so it isn't necessarily all that surprising to see the Trustees Report come in late. Without any incentive to get a report in on time, letting the deadline slip has become the path of least resistance.
To be fair, though, the COVID-19 pandemic has created some unique challenges in getting the report prepared. Social Security offices remain closed to the public. Staffing levels were thin even before the pandemic hit, and things have only become more difficult over the past year and a half.
Nevertheless, the trustees owe it to retirees to issue a new version of their report. The 2020 version painted a dire picture of the future, with less than 15 years before the trust funds are likely to run out of money. Beyond that, income from payroll taxes will be insufficient to pay full benefits to all recipients from the program. Benefits could therefore get cut by more than 20%.
It'd be nice if the tens of millions of Americans who rely on Social Security for a considerable portion of their financial support in retirement could get a commitment from the trustees who oversee the program's trust fund to provide information in a timely manner that complies with the federal law governing Social Security. Unfortunately, tardiness with the Social Security Trustees Report seems to be something that people on both sides of the aisle struggle to overcome.